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Food waste needs to be tackled systematically

South Africa wastes up to 10.3 million tons of food each year – and this was a problem the Shoprite Group was tackling from multiple angles. Picture by BHEKI RADEBE

South Africa wastes up to 10.3 million tons of food each year – and this was a problem the Shoprite Group was tackling from multiple angles. Picture by BHEKI RADEBE

Published May 7, 2022

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Food-waste was a complex problem that needed to be tackled systematically, according to South African retailers Shoprite.

South Africa wastes up to 10.3 million tons of food each year – and this was a problem the Shoprite Group was tackling from multiple angles.

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Shoprite Group’s Sustainability Manager Sanjeev Raghubir said the best way to reduce food waste is to avoid it to begin with “Our biggest efforts go into preventing food waste and losses before they occur,” Raghubir said.

He said that the Group does this by reviewing its ordering, replenishment and ranging processes, using data analytics to identify food waste hotspots. For example, by optimising the product range in its delis, the Group reduced food waste by 11 percent in that department.

The group also used Artificial Intelligence (AI) to fight food waste. Raghubir said that Shoprite has adopted various technologies to fight food waste. "The Group uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict sales at its stores. Replenishment orders are placed automatically, to ensure that stock is always available for customers while simultaneously reducing food waste."

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Various parameters were considered by the AI model. “For example, a store close to the finish line of an annual sporting event will automatically be replenished with additional convenience meals for that single day of the year,” Raghubir said.

Salvaging and rescuing food was a popular process seeing increasing use abroad, and it was another important piece in preventing food from being wasted. For example, blemished bananas can be used in a banana-bread recipe.

Food waste was not just a front to the hungry in a country where 2.5 million people experience hunger weekly. It also had significant environmental and economic implications. Food was wasted across the supply chain, from farm to fork. It was a complex issue, which was why Africa’s largest food retailer has adopted systematic and comprehensive plans to address it.

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Although the Group's procedures and practices went a long way towards reducing surplus food, it did not eliminate it altogether. Surplus food, still fit for human consumption, remained and every day the Group said it donated more than 120 000 meals to over 450 charities to fight hunger and address food security.

In the past year, the Group donated surplus food valued at R138 million. It also facilitated the donation of surplus fruit and vegetables directly from farms to charities.

However, not all surplus food was fit for human consumption, but the Group has a plan for this, too. Every week, Shoprite sent around 44 tons of food waste, mainly dried goods like pasta, cereals, and flour, to be converted to animal feed.

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Regenerative and organic farmer Farmer Angus sources over 4 tons of fruit and vegetables (not fit for human consumption) from the Basson Distribution Centre in Cape Town each week. He feeds this to his pigs and supplies an artisanal charcuterie range back to Checkers, thereby creating another circular flow of resources and avoiding waste.

Even the 904 479 litres of used cooking oil recovered from Shoprite and Checkers delis last year, was used for industrial applications, including the conversion to biodiesel.

Organic waste from stores and distribution centres was increasingly managed through on-site composters and off-site biodigesters. In its last financial year, the Group sent 236 tons of food waste to composting.

These measures were said to be having a marked impact on food waste and the environment. The Group diverted 3 305 tons of food waste from landfills in the past year and saved 8 391 tCO2e.

The Shoprite Group said it was closely aligned with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, including the target to halve food waste at retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along the food chain by 2030 - a goal it is now on track to achieve.

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